Jan 252014

Clinton “Doc” McPherson & his son Kim at Buffalo Gap Wine & Food Summit in April 2012

In Memoriam: Clinton “Doc” McPherson, Pioneer of Texas Wine, Passed Today

The passing of Clinton “Doc” McPherson was reported this morning on Texas Wine Lover blog.

Those in the Texas wine and grape industry and countless people that now enjoy Texas wine, please stop and take a moment to savor a sip of Texas wine in honor this man. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for helping to start the Texas wine industry and initiating what we know as today’s Texas wine experience.

I would like to honor Doc McPherson using a combination of his and my words captured in my book The Wineslinger Chronicles: Texas on the Vine.

Doc grew up on a cotton farm and evolved from Army Air Corps navigator with hundreds of combat flying hours and numerous medals, to PhD college professor and aspiring wine aficionado in a region of the world better known for cotton, corn, and soybeans than for grapes and malolactic fermentation. It was Doc’s headstrong attitude and association with Robert Reed, Roy Mitchell, and others that got the whole dang modern Texas wine thing started back in 1970s.

Doc attended a Mentors Panel at Neal Newsom’s Field Day in Plains a few years back and addressed the assemblage:

“Bob Reed and I were professors at Texas Tech, and we used to meet over noon lunch. We brought our own lunches because we were poor professors and couldn’t afford the food they sold at the union. I said to Bob, ‘Let’s grow some grapes. We can make jelly and sell it on the roadside during the summer for some extra cash.’ We agreed, OK, we’ll just do that.”

Then, Doc stopped for a moment to think, and interjected, “I’ll tell you what. If I had all the money that Bob and I made and lost with grapes in the early days, both of us would be millionaires.”

“We finally got five acres of grapes planted in 1969, some for makin’ wine. Then, the university president came by and told us that all the assistants and professors had to get themselves a research project. I said RE-SEARCH? So, later I asked him about putting in a small experimental winery in the basement of the chemistry building. I don’t remember all the facts and figures—Roy Mitchell might—but I finally got it put in. That’s where the modern Texas wine industry all started.”

“But, one day when Bob and I were talking about what to do with our grapes, a lady came by and asked us, ‘Why don’t you boys put in a real winery?’ I said, Ma’am, we’re professors, we don’t even have enough money to buy groceries, not to mention a winery. She turned to her secretary and said, ‘Write these boys a check for $50,000 to get them a winery started.’ Today, Bruni is making mighty fine wines over at Llano Estacado, the place I started back in those early days.”

Llano Estacado winery was established in 1976.

Doc, in my opinion, is one of the true Texas Wineslingers. He is survived today by his family and his son Kim who carries on Doc’s Texas wine legacy. It all started after Doc said to Bob Reed, “‘Let’s grow some grapes.

 Posted by at 11:04 am
Jan 242014


Why Did the Texas Hill Country Make Wine Enthusiast’s Top 10 Wine Destinations List? A Wine Conversation on KUHF

As you may know by now, Texas is the 5th largest wine producing state and 7th in production in wine grapes. But, what made the Texas Hill Country worthy of being named to the Wine Enthusiast (WE) Magazine’s list of its 2014 Ten Best Wine Travel Destinations?

Well, WE in their own words was out looking for both “traditional wine regions”, but also this year “added several modern classics and a sprinkling of up-and-comers” to make a compelling list of destinations.

During my conversation with host Craig Cohen on Houston PBS-affiliate KUHF’s noon-time talk show, Houston Matters, he asked me the same question. My response went something like this…

The Texas Hill Country provides the wine country experience that savvy international wine travelers expect. Some of the Texas Hill Country Wineries are up-and-comers alright with most less than 15 years old with the hill country’s oldest just turning 30 this year (the oldest in Texas is Val Verde Winery in Del Rio that was started in 1883). However, the hill country wineries are at work with other local factors that provide the combination of quality (international medal winning) local wines and first rate local cuisine, arid climate, scenic views and great nights in the area’s B&Bs (not to mention great wildflowers, fishing, hiking and bike or motorcycle riding). [Click here to hear the complete interview starting at the 16:30 minute mark in the show.]


All Texas wine list and fine dinning at Cabernet Grill

Craig also asked me how I discovered that Texas actually had its own wine country. Well, my story on this started around 1995 when I wife (who was both my life partner and business partner in my Houston-based technology company) told me that we were working too much and needed a hobby.

At the time, my wife and I were both foodies and into wine, with many excursions under our belt to wine destinations, mostly in Napa, Sonoma and Russian River wine regions in California and, since then, many destinations in Europe. It wasn’t until a cold December weekend in Old Town Spring, Texas, that I found a brochure that that mentioned that Texas had a wine industry. However, back then Texas only had a handful of wineries, maybe 30-35 statewide at the most versus the 260 or more there are today.


View and a sip of wine at Driftwood Vineyards

We joined a wine consumer and education group called The Wine Society of Texas and started visiting wineries. At first, they were the wineries nearest to Houston at Messina Hof Winery in Bryan and Haak Vineyards in Galveston County. Then, we attended wine dinners where fine cuisine was paired with Texas wines from wineries like the hill country’s Becker Vineyards and Llano Estacado Winery from Lubbock. Then, we got the wine country bug and visited the hill country and were surprised to find the wine country experience that we had previously found in California. In fact, we found it so pleasurable, we eventually acquired a second home near Fredericksburg.

I also commented to Craig and his listeners that I believe several things have come together that now culminate in the world-class Texas wine country experience. It’s reached a critical mass that statewide now contributes over $1.8 billion dollars annually to the state economy and attracts about 1.5 million wine tourists a year (See Texas wine economic impact study summary and if you are interested the detailed report).


Henri’s high pour at Becker Vineyards

The situation in the Texas hill country is that it has the highest concentration of Texas wineries (somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 to 50 wineries). This trend has combined with the changing state demographics leading to more (and younger) wine drinkers, in turn, leading to Texas rising to the number 4 wine consuming state. But wait there’s more….


Lavender Field at Becker Vineyards

There’s been the added synergy of more wineries and grape growers embracing the fact that Texas’s hot sunny climate have led them to plant more grape varieties that originate from warmer Mediterranean counties of Europe like Spain, Portugal, Italy and areas in southern France. Texas is now producing international award winning wines made from here-to-for lesser known wine grapes: white grapes like Viognier, Roussanne, Vermentino and Muscat, and red grapes like Sangiovese and Tempranillo and with its blends and Rosés made with Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache.


Winery and vineyard of Lenoir grapes at Dry Comal Creek

I’m sticking to what I said on the radio show, “The Texas hill country offers the complete wine country experience” including  the genuine look and feel of what serious wine travelers have come to expect: quality wine yet something more…a beautiful setting that conveys ambiance and the region’s “sense of place”.


Springtime in the Texas Hill Country is for Wildflowers & Wine!

Download this Texas hill country winery map and get out into the Texas hill country and on the wine trail. You’ll be just in time for the Wine Lovers Trail that runs from February 7-23 and Wine and Wildflower Trail April 4-20.


John Rivenburgh and Bob Young Co-Owners at Bending Branch Vineyards

If you want to follow my experiences in Texas wine country read my book – The Wineslinger Chronicles: Texas on the Vine – where I tell 26 stories set on the Texas wine trails, with best Texas winemakers and growers, and from the genesis of the Texas wine experience (also available in hardback on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and in Kindle and eBook formats.


 Posted by at 2:25 pm
Jan 202014


Texas Wine Exports in 1859

“Trade of Western Texas – The Indianola Courier, of the 17th gives a table of the imports and exports for the year ending… of the flourishing port of Indianola on Matagord Bay, where most of the Gulf Coast forwarding trade of Western Texas is done…

The exports were to New Orleans, principally; to New York, Mobile, Pensacola, Biloxi, Havana and Bremen; they were:

  • 28,622 bales of cotton, of which 19,304 to this port;
  • 1,675 bales of wool;
  • 350 hhds. sugar;
  • 838 bbls. Molasses;
  • 16,002 head of cattle;
  • 33,100 hides;
  • 187 bales peltries;
  • 26,508 bushels pecans;
  • 14,151 bushels corn, mostly to Pensacola;
  • 992 slabs of Mexican lead;
  • 1,126 sundry packages;
  • Besides several thousand pounds of Texas bacon, Texas wine in casks, Texas butter, Texas sea island cotton, and Mexican copper;
  • Sheep, horses and mules…showing a very large increase over the previous year.

The value of the exports is $2,500,000.”

—- From the New Orleans Times-Picayune, September 23, 1859.

VintageTexas Note: This is the earliest reference to Texas wine in newspaper articles found thus far. If you know of any that predate this reference to Texas wine in the New Orleans Times Picayune, please let us know.

 Posted by at 7:25 pm
Jan 162014


Wine Enthusiast Names Texas Hill Country One of the 10 Best International Wine Travel Destinations

The Texas Hill Country Wineries announced today, it has been selected as one of the “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2014” by Wine Enthusiast magazine in their January issue.  The non-profit association boasts 38 wineries located in Central Texas.

Each year, the magazine narrows from the hundreds of global wine regions they visit to just 10 for this annual ‘best of’ list.  Included among the selected wine regions, Texas Hill Country is one of only three regions from the United States.  Alexis Korman, Senior Associate Editor for Wine Enthusiast Media, visited the Texas Hill Country in Fall 2013, identifying all 6 wineries she toured in the article.

“Visitors may flock to Texas Hill Country to sip wine,” says Korman, “but they end up drinking in the romance of the Old West, too.”

[VintageTexas - I will add that not to many Texas's fine wines get outside our state's borders. So, the best way for wine lovers from New York, California, Italy, Spain, France or even Australia to experience the quality of Texas wine is to make the Texas Hill Country their wine destination. In many regards, it is like visiting California's wine regions in their formative years in the 1970-80s. There are lots of hidden gems just waiting to be found and savored. You just have to look at the results of the recent an Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition to find a really good Texas wine you will like. See: List at txwinelover.com]

“It is an honor to be included in the list of prominent wine regions from around the world,” says January Wiese, Executive Director of Texas Hill Country Wineries.  “The Texas Hill Country has been a travel destination to many for years.  To be recognized along with global regions in the growing and evolving wine industry is truly exciting to our organization and our winery members.”

Texas is the number 5 wine-producing state in the US with the Texas Hill Country AVA being the second largest in the nation.  Spanish and Italian varietals grow well in the Hill Country including Tempranillo, Viognier, Sangiovese and Tannat.  The six wineries mentioned in the article: Lewis Wines, Flat Creek Estate, Perissos Vineyards and Winery, Pedernales Cellars, Bending Branch Winery and Driftwood Estate Winery, are an outstanding representation for what the entire region has to offer.

For additional information on Texas Hill Country Wineries and member wineries, please visit www.TexasWineTrail.com.

 Posted by at 11:23 am
Dec 122013


Twitter Tasting of Top Texas Wines of 2013 (Tues. Dec. 17 7-8 pm)

Next Tuesday, Dec. 17 from 7-8 p.m., Jessica Dupuy and Denise Clarke will lead a Twitter Tasting with Jessica’s selections of Texas Monthly’s Top Texas Wines of 2013.  You are invited to join them, other Texas wine aficionados and me for this Twitter Texas Wine Taste and Tweet.  Don’t forget to use the hashtag #TXwine on your tweets.

Here is the list of Top Texas Wines of 2013: http://www.texasmonthly.com/story/best-texas-wines-2013

Please pick up one or more of these fine Texas wines or some of your personal favorites then share your tastes and tweets with the group online.You can also try a few Texas holiday wine and food pairings and “share”. Here are a few ideas from Chef Terry Thompson Anderson and me:

A Holiday Food & Texas Wine Pairing: Feast of the Seven Fishes




Taste, Tweet and Repeat! More Tastes, More Tweets, More Fun!

This is great way to taste your way across Texas and toast the holiday season with friends.

 Posted by at 11:43 am
Dec 092013

The Binghams Acquire Pheasant Ridge Winery and Vineyard

December 9, 2013 – Continuing its mission of providing exceptional quality products to Texans, Cliff Bingham, President of Bingham Family Cellars, LLC announced today that the company has completed its acquisition of Pheasant Ridge Winery and its vineyards.

“We’re excited to welcome Pheasant Ridge to the Bingham family,” said Bingham. “Pheasant Ridge has a long standing tradition of making award winning wine from High Plains grapes. Acquiring the winery is a strategic step in expanding our products and meeting the demand for high quality vinifera grapes and wine from Texas. We are thrilled to have the original Pheasant Ridge founder and winegrower, Bobby Cox, on our team.”

Pheasant Ridge Winery was founded in 1979 with the goal of offering boutique wines made from estate grapes. The assets included in the purchase are: winery facility, 25 acres of vinifera wine grapes, and a tasting room.

Cliff Bingham has been a fourth generation farmer in Terry County, Texas for 35 years. For the last 20 years, Bingham has worked as a pioneer in the Texas organic cotton and peanut markets. Ten years ago, he diversified his row crop farming operation by planting grape vines. Together with his wife, children, and other family members, Cliff currently grows 245 acres of wine grapes in the Texas High Plains AVA. This includes 12 varieties of red grapes and 14 varieties of white grapes that are sold to outstanding winery customers around the state. The addition of a full service winery will facilitate diversification and progress for the Binghams.

Inquiries may be directed to Alexis Bingham or Betty Bingham (806-585-6616 binghamfamilyvineyards@gmail.com)

 Posted by at 4:51 pm
Nov 282013

Chef Terry Thompson Anderson

A Holiday Food & Texas Wine Pairing: Feast of the Seven Fishes

Earlier this year, I had a chance for work with friend Chef Terry Thompson Anderson on one of the most intensive food and wine pairing and writing projects in my 15 year career in Texas wines (second only to our now famous 2011 Edible Texas Wine and Food Match). This pairing was based on the Feast of the Seven Fishes of Italian tradition, but done Texas Style.

You can get the full dosage of our efforts in the November issue of Marla Camps, Edible Austin magazine. With its emphasis on Cooks at Home, Cooking Basics and Sustainable Kitchen, this annual issue, simply named “COOKS”, is worthy of your kitchen library or archive. You can also get a peek at our Seven Fishes article and Chef Terry’s recipes and my Texas wine pairings at:


At first blush, The Feast of the Seven Fishes: Texas Style, might seem somewhat of strange twist on Italian tradition for a Texas wine and food experience. The history of this feast originates from Italian tradition based on the Christmas Eve celebration of the Vigilia di Natale in Italy (See article or link for the significance of the number seven).

The Texas connection actually came at the turn of the 20th century when a flood of Sicilians settled in Galveston and the lower Brazos Valley while northern Italians moved farther inland. The bountiful Gulf Coast waters, with their delicious grouper, calamari, blue crabs, shrimp, briny oysters and more, became the new palette for this particular year end holiday feast.

The preparation for this Texas wine and food pairing extravaganza came at mid-year, far in advance of the November issue’s September editorial deadline. Terry and I met to discuss recipes and possible approaches to wine pairing. My Texas wine pairing task was made more straightforward than you might expect. First, Chef Terry’s recipes are well written prose that make mental manipulation of the major elements of the dish and wine approaches seem straightforward. Secondly and perhaps most importantly, Texas wine growers and winemakers have finally embraced their hot sunny clime (and perhaps their inner Italian). Texas wine country is now a mecca of Mediterranean wine production representing grapes grown locally, but that originate from Italy, Spain, Sardinia, Portugal and southern France.

After our initial meet-up, Terry worked up her recipes and I made several candidate wine selections for each recipe. The size of this task became apparent as we realized that  seven Gulf seafood preparations were involved that required two or three candidate Texas wines for each course to pair.


Then, the big night came. Terry and I and my wife Delia, got together at Terry’s house in Fredericksburg where she prepared three plates for each recipe for us to taste alongside two or three (and sometimes more) of my Texas wine selections. We voted separately for our favorites and as you will see, there were times when one wine just wasn’t sufficient. There are several ways to approach wine and food pairing: intensity and weight of the cuisine, ethnic origin, similar or contrasting flavor elements, and synergistic aspects (as with a hint of sweetness with the heat of the chili or a splash of brisk acidity with a buttery, creamy sauce).

At the finish of a grand evening, I tallied our votes and came up with the wine pairing notes that highlight the Texas wines that did very well alongside Terry’s gulf seafood offerings.


The following are Chef Terry’s Seven Fishes Feast recipes (that are linked to the Edible Austin website) along with our Texas wine selections (with links back to their corresponding winery websites for more information along with availability and ordering details):


I hope you have a fantastic holiday season no matter what your ethnic or religious persuasion. Celebrate and toast the occasion with your favorite Texas wine.

All Texas wines featured in this article were Texas appellation, meaning that they were made from 75 percent or more Texas-grown grapes. These wines are available at the wineries, many of which offer online sales and shipping to your home or drop ship location (with adult signature upon receipt). Some are distributed and found in local markets (Central Market and Whole Foods in Texas) and wine stores, and especially at Spec’s Wines, Spirits and Finer Foods across the state.

NOTE: Please be advised that wines from Texas wineries that display “For Sale in Texas Only” on their labels are not generally made from locally grown Texas grapes. Please support Texas wineries that have signed the Texas Winery and Winemaker Pledge.

 Posted by at 12:21 pm
Nov 252013


Interesting Insights into Texas Wine from 2014 Houston Rodeo Gold

The 2014 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition judging boasted 2,505 entries, including wines from over 40 Texas wineries and 16 different countries. Medals were awarded to 2,212 wines by 20 panels of judges, consisting of wine experts, collectors and knowledgeable consumers. The total list of wining wines is available on the Houston Livestock Show Website and the complete list of Texas winners has been compiled by Jeff Cope at TXwinelover.com. The long list of Texas winery gold medal winners is given at the bottom of this blog.

My mission in this blog is to dig deeper into the results from this year’s wine competition, just focusing on the best-of-the-best: the Texas gold medal winning wines. Believe it or not, it tells a story. It’s a story different from that any other top wine producing states (California, Washington, Oregon and New York) can tell.

The Focus in Texas is NOT to Try to be Like Bordeaux or Burgundy

The bottom line is that Texas wineries are doing their best by not focusing on wines that have become known as the “California Set”. Those wines are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir made famous by Bordeaux and Burgundy wine regions of France.

Only 11% of the gold medal wines from Texas wineries in the 2014 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition were from this group of wines. These same results indicate that gold medal wines can flow from these grapes in Texas, but everything has to be just right; the vineyard location, the weather, the winemaker, and perhaps even the phase of the Moon.

Texas IS the Mediterranean of the USA

These gold medal results indicate one thing very significant. That is, Texas IS the “Mediterranean of the USA”. Its warm summertime weather works well with grapes from southern Europe and Mediterranean shores of France, Italy and Spain, perhaps better than it does with grapes derived from the cool climes of Bordeaux and Burgundy.

The best examples of what’s working in Texas vineyards and wineries is Tempranillo, a red grape that originates from Spain that is commonly associated with their Rioja region, and red wines and blends made from Syrah, Tempranillo, Mourvedre and Sangiovese. Over 40% of the Rodeo gold medals presented to Texas wineries were for red wines and blends with a Mediterranean lineage. For white wines, it’s Viognier, a grape that similarly comes from the Rhone River Valley in southern France. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 8:20 pm
Nov 152013


John Rivenburgh and Bob Young at Bending Branch Winery

You Just “Tannat” Argue with the Success of Texas Tannat: Bending Branch Winery Brings in Gold

Bending Branch Winery in Comfort, Texas, has won the coveted “Top Texas Wine” from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™ Uncorked!® International Wine Competition. This accolade brings with it the signature saddle award for the winery’s first Hill Country estate-grown Tannat 2011.  Its Texas Tannat, Texas High Plains 2011 also received a double gold medal, earning a Reserve Class Champion award, and its Tempranillo, Newsom Vineyards 2010 earned gold.

Robert Young, Bending Branch founder and co-winemaker said,“We are so proud to win Top Texas Wine at the Houston competition, particularly for our first-ever estate Tannat. Our signature grape, Tannat, has found a sweet spot on the planet here and makes a remarkable and distinctive wine.  We couldn’t be more proud to bring home a saddle for our Tannat.”

[Bob- call me when you saddle up your horse for the photo-op!]

These prestigious awards come on the heels of earning two gold and four “Top of Class” medals at the 2014 San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo Wine Competition.  Bending Branch Winery won two gold medals for its 2009 Petite Sirah Reserve, Paso Robles and 2009 Petite Sirah Port style, Paso Robles.

Earlier this year, Bending Branch won a prestigious double gold, at the 2013 San Francisco International Wine Competition.  The 2010 Bending Branch Cabernet Sauvignon, Newsom Vineyards, which received unanimous gold medals from every judge on its panel, is the first 100 percent Texas Cabernet Sauvignon to win double gold in at least 16 years.

2014 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition Awards

Bending Branch will be presented with its saddle at the Rodeo Uncorked! Roundup and Best Bites Competition on Sunday, Feb. 23.  The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo 2014 Rodeo Uncorked International Wine Competition boasted 2,505 entries, including wines from 40 Texas wineries and 16 different countries.

Bending Branch wines awarded medals at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition include:

  • Top Texas Wine:  Bending Branch Tannat, Estate Grown, Texas Hill Country 2011
  • Class Champion and Double Gold:  Bending Branch Tannat, Estate Grown, Texas Hill Country 2011
  • Reserve Class Champion and Double Gold: Bending Branch Texas Tannat, Texas High Plains, 2011
 Posted by at 12:23 pm
Nov 112013


Haak Vineyards Brings in Old World Gold & Silver with New World Madeira

Haak Vineyards & Winery announced today that it was awarded a Gold and two Silver Medals by the largest international wine competition in the world with over 12,000 entries competing.  The AWC Vienna International Wine Challenge 2013 awards and trophy presentations took place in the imperial ambiance of the Vienna City Hall in the presence of 3,000 invited wine professionals.

All wine entries were judged in an Absolute Blind Tasting in single flights by an international tasting panel. In this way, all wines received a fair chance in the competition. Haak Vineyards & Winery has set the standard for quality, innovation and creative wine styles in today’s wine industry, and in Vienna it did not shy away from the international competition, it scored well.

The Haak winning wines were a 2008 Madeira Blanc Du Bois (Gold), a 2006 Madeira Blanc Du Bois (Silver) and a 2010 Madeira Blanc Du Bois (Silver).

Raymond Haak was honored to join the ranks of world class medal and trophy winners at this prestigious ceremony in the city hall of Vienna, Austria.

Hat’s off to you Raymond (your’s too) and to your lovely wife and business partner, Gladys.

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 Posted by at 2:23 pm